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Despite vocal opposition, the Utah Senate approved a bill that gives the state engineer broad authority to rule on requests by owners of water rights to change their water usage.

SB109, sponsored by Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, comes as a result of a ruling by the Utah Supreme Court declaring that the state engineer lacked the authority to decide water-change applications.

The bill gives the engineer that authority, and also gives municipalities the ability to opt out of taking change applications to the engineer and instead go to the private property ombudsman.

Opponents argued that the Legislature should not be granting such broad discretion to the engineer, and that the bill gives special treatment to cities and towns.

"I think it's an abdication of our responsibility," said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper. "We have been elected to make those decisions and if we think we're not big enough to put our brains around this issue, we probably should rethink whether we should be here."

The bill passed the Senate 19-9 and moves to the House for consideration.

— Robert Gehrke

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